Economic downturn may bring Whistler and Squamish closer together With the summer tourist season reaching its apex, officials in town to review the bid for the 2010 Olympics and one of the sunniest summers in years, it’s easy to forget that Whistler — dependent on the only major industry in B.C. that’s not facing a crisis at the moment — has been spared much of the hardship that other parts of the province are enduring this year. That’s not to say everyone in Whistler is preparing for early retirement based on fortunes they’ve made here. The construction industry is in its first slump in many years, there are probably still too many people in the retail and food & beverage businesses for the customer base, and the past successes of the resort certainly don’t automatically mean people will continue to vacation here. But compared to other towns in B.C. dependent on fishing and forestry, Whistler is doing pretty well. Which brings us to Squamish. The largest town in the corridor is in a tough economic situation with the shut down of mills and the slumping forest industry. There are some possible alternatives to forestry on the horizon for Squamish, but there is no certainty and nothing imminent. Construction of the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish mountain resort is a minimum of two years away — if it is approved for development, something that won’t be known for at least a year. Growth in other areas of tourism in Squamish is steady but is still not a major economic factor in the area, although the potential is huge. The port is another potential economic resource, even if the lumber market remains depressed. A plan to expand the port and take advantage of its railway connections to B.C.’s Interior is part of the transportation legacy envisioned by the people behind the Olympic bid, but there is probably more that can be done sooner. In the long run, perhaps Squamish’s greatest economic asset is its physical setting. As the Lower Mainland spills up the Fraser Valley, Squamish will become an increasingly attractive place to live. Development of new lands and redevelopment of under used lands is inevitable. In the meantime, as long as the forest industry remains depressed Whistler and Squamish are likely to become more interdependent. The two towns have never been on close terms politically, although they have had to work together on many fronts. They will likely have to join forces in the future to work effectively on things like transportation infrastructure and tourism marketing. The economic relation between the two towns is probably already greater than most people realize, with many people living in Squamish and working in Whistler, and many Whistler residents shopping and buying services in Squamish. As the value of Squamish real estate is realized by homeowners and developers there may ultimately be jobs in Squamish for many of the Whistler building trades looking for work after Whistler reaches buildout.